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Newfoundland election race is Dunderdale’s to lose

After a suspense-free election campaign in 2007 – an easy victory lap for Danny Williams – Newfoundland and Labrador is gearing up for a race that could actually mean something.

The province goes to the polls in early October for a fixed-date election. It is the first vote since the retirement of Mr. Williams, who was lionized for his leadership as the long-struggling province gained "have" status.

In the most recent poll, the Progressive Conservatives retained a healthy lead under Kathy Dunderdale, the chosen successor of Mr. Williams. The political sands keep shifting, though, and few observers are willing to offer a firm guess at the result this fall.

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One of the most jarring shifts has been the stepping aside of Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones. After a difficult struggle with breast cancer she announced this week that she did not have the strength to lead the party in the campaign. She will run in her Labrador district, seen as the closest thing the party has to a safe seat.

The shock announcement left the party executive caught short. They decided to accept nominations for leader for only two days, closing Friday. On the weekend the executive will choose who they believe to be the best candidate. The method, while understandable given the tight time-frame, leaves Ms. Jones' successor open to the sort of accusations of coronation that dogged Michael Ignatieff.

Federal Liberal MP Gerry Byrne reportedly went so far as to suggest the election should be postponed. He was quoted in the St. John's Telegram saying that a delay would be fair. The suggestion was quickly shot down by the government.

Less dramatically, the New Democrats have been enjoying a quiet rise in stature. The party scored a few upsets locally during the federal election this spring and, under Lorraine Michael, the provincial party has climbed in the polls. Although Ms. Michaels is the sole NDP member in the legislature, the party is said to be having more luck than the Liberals attracting money and candidates for this fall.

Observers are starting to whisper that the New Democrats will emulate their federal counterparts, leap-frogging the Grits to become the Official Opposition.

That still leaves race generally seen as Ms. Dunderdale's to lose. It would be a political shock for either of the other two parties to catch up to the Tories.

But complicating the situation is Mr. Williams' status. The former premier's popularity allowed him to draw backing from across the political spectrum. People who didn't support the party found themselves voting for its candidates because of him. Ms. Dunderdale will inevitably lose some of that support. How much, and what that will mean in tight races, remains to be seen.

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But at the least – after a boring race in 2007 during which reporters speculated not on the victor but whether Mr. Williams' party would win every seat – this election will be worth watching.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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